Wednesday, April 4th 2012, 6:09 AM EDT
Mr. John Hamer
BBC Trust Unit
180 Great Portland Street
Dear Mr. Hamer
BBC – Complaints Framework Consultation submission March 2012
Your email dated 8 March 2012 refers. Its receipt is a blessing flowing, I presume, from the stimulating exchanges between us over the course of the last some years.
I have, indeed, had numerous encounters with the current Complaints Procedure of the BBC almost, but not quite, all in connection with coverage of so-termed climate change. All, without exception, have been unsatisfactory and for precisely the same reason, namely the pursuit by the BBC of a partisan agenda not merely without benefit of evidence but, on the contrary, in the face of copious multi-stranded contra-indications. I will focus primarily on the climate change issue, but will touch upon others before completion of this submission, for they too are of importance in connection with the
a. BBC’s respect for its own published Editorial Standards;
b. BBC’s proposed revisions to its Complaints Framework.
In any event, I respond now to the BBC’s invitation to make a submission even though I do not have any confidence that it will have the slightest influence on minds set firmly upon the pursuit of a cultist ideology, and are cavalier about the means deployed to proselytise it. Rather, I expect to do little more than pre-empt any possible future assertion that such an invitation was extended and was pointedly repudiated. In doing so, I make no apology if the submission turns out to be as long as it needs to be. In the course of it, I do not propose to resurrect the past, however. Reference to scientific issues will be for illustrative purposes only.
In response, it would appear, to the unceasing flood of similar complaints from licence fee payers, the BBC has from time to time issued statements, which have intimated a change of direction in its treatment of authentic science which runs counter to its projected orthodoxy. Any change for the better in its stance has yet to materialise. Rather, confronted with empirical evidence, it has preferred instead casuistry, dissembling, misrepresentation and dismissive disregard as its dialectical weapons of choice. It has gone further. In its efforts to construct a moat around an intellectual house of cards, it has resorted (sunk?) to the level of commissioning an apologist paper from a supposedly independent expert. And the identity of this oracle? A climate scientist, maybe? No? A physicist? No? A chemist? No? Not even a botanist? No. There was anointed instead a geneticist, the world’s greatest authority no less, on anti-clockwise spiralling snails. The BBC might have selected a lepidopterist, maybe. Why not? Or, a bacteriologist or a virologist? But no; it preferred to appoint a biologist infatuated with gastropods - something illuminating in that, maybe. Well, well!
And his recommendation - no doubt, pre-ordained? Why, of course, to afford even less air time to so-called deniers, an epithet evidently intended to embody an offensive nuance. One may point out, of course, that ‘even less’ of almost nothing remains almost nothing. One also notes, with interest, the BBC’s reference in its briefing papers to gratuitously abusive or offensive language. Moreover, did the implicitly anti-scientific character of his recommendation also escape the BBC? Probably not, but it was most surely ostentatiously ignored.
Before departing entirely from this paragon of scientific transparency and rigour, however, it might just be worth a quotation from his voluminous writings. “Science,” he has proclaimed “is a broad church, full of narrow minds trained to know ever more about even less.” Well, there can be not much arguing with that now, can there?
It is equally inescapable that the BBC has seen no cognitive dissonance between its commissioning of a lick spittle report from a non-specialist and, at other times, its espousal of the cultist line that, as a discipline, climate change was/is of such a specialised and complex character that only ‘climate scientists’ were/are in a position to express a view. In itself arrogant and obnoxious, the obvious point that this proposition lends itself, above all, to dictatorial monopoly conveniently escapes it. But then, of course, neither has it ever seemed telling or strange to the BBC that climatologists and other practitioners of vast experience and achievement from across the world have roundly condemned climate change alarmism as plainly fraudulent. For the BBC, the scathing and well supported critiques of the IPCC are equally to be ignored.
Instead, what is trotted out has been the ever constant repetition of the mendacious refrain that there is ‘an overwhelming consensus’ of scientists who support the orthodoxy. Leaving aside the inherent irrelevance of this line of argument, the BBC has in parallel consistently refused to acknowledge what is equally self-evident, namely that, if substantial numbers of experts on a controversial topic do not subscribe to an alleged consensual paradigm then, by definition, it is not a consensus nor, indeed, is it a paradigm! But then, in the Corporation’s handling of this controversy logic, like integrity, has never been conspicuous and beyond challenge. This, no doubt, serves to explain the ever rising tide of excoriation to which, day after day, the BBC finds itself subjected - not simply from a few diehard malcontents but from great swathes of what should be its natural allies from within the print media, specifically from within the scientific community itself (thankfully) as well as from within the legions of the public at large.
The mere fact of initiating a time consuming and expensive consultation with regard to the BBC’s Complaints Framework immediately and necessarily begs the question “Why?” The consultation documentation points to organisational issues that need to be addressed in the interests of efficiency. In these, I have little interest. The mechanics of complaints handling are managerial issues. It should be axiomatic that they be easily understood and should be timely in execution. The fact that, hitherto, they have been neither constitutes a serious criticism for any organisation funded out of what is effectively a poll tax. The reference to timeliness is particularly obnoxious. I have personally been aware of complaints that have taken months, and in one case over a year, to receive a response. At the same time, the BBC has sought to place severe time constraints on complainants. This speaks not merely to lack of efficiency but also to hypocrisy and absence of honest intent.
And therein, of course, lies the bedrock criterion for assessing the worth and usefulness of any complaints procedure - whether existing now or, in future, to be altered. For decades the reputation of the BBC rested on a universally held perception that it was impartial in its coverage both of news and of other factually based programming. This did not mean that there was necessarily any sort of unanimity or consensus in accepting the veracity of what was broadcast. By and large, though, it was accepted that output on matters of controversy was more or less even handed. There were always minorities or special interest groups who charged the BBC with inclining either too much to the left or too much to the right. The response of the BBC, which I have heard many times, was “If we’re offending both the left and the right, then we’re probably getting it about right.” That constituted a robust and healthy detachment.
In stark contrast, what we have now acquired is impartiality that has had to be ‘calibrated’, to use the BBC’s own sophism. This linguistic sleight of hand, however, is precisely that - a wilfully cynical distortion of the ordinary, accepted meaning of language. We all know what impartiality means, and so does the BBC. Synonyms might encompass such alternatives as ‘even handedness’, ‘fairness’, ‘probity’, ‘disinterestedness’, ‘equality’, ‘neutrality’. In short, impartiality is an absolute. It cannot be ‘calibrated’ any more than can uniqueness. The suggestion that it can be is a conceptual absurdity, an ethical affront.
But to charges of systemic bias, it has been and is precisely to this that the BBC has had recourse - most particularly, of course, in relation to what has been declared by it, amongst others, to be the greatest challenge confronting the species in the 20th/21st centuries. This, naturally, is a reference to putative climate change wrought by human emissions of a benign trace gas. This atmospheric component, however, happens also to be the sine qua non of all life on the planet. It constitutes, moreover, a substance which every human, as well as every other higher life form, exhales with each breath that it takes. And yet this the global warming propagandists, both within and without the BBC, affirm is a pollutant with the capacity to trigger climatic catastrophe.
It matters not a jot that there exists not one iota of observational evidence to support what common sense alone dictates must be a prima facie improbability. To the BBC it matters not a jot that physicists, as well as practitioners across the spectrum of scientific disciplines but, over and over again, men and women of authentic stature in their respective fields, completely dismiss such alarmist exaggeration - as, indeed, did the IPCC before last minute unilateral changes to its 1995 conclusions were secretly engineered by a certain Dr. Ben Santer, albeit with the connivance and authority of those conspicuous exemplars of detached observation and scientific probity, Messrs. Bolin and Houghton. To the BBC and its fellow cult propagandists it matters nothing that the geological record discloses CO2 concentrations far beyond prevailing levels, and those during prolonged periods - meaning, let’s be clear in this context, millennia not months - of global glaciation. For the BBC, though, all references to possible contra-indications to the adopted orthodoxy are to be strenuously avoided or, if needs must, are to be treated with ridicule or misrepresentation.
But, having plumbed these relatively shallow reaches of chicanery, does it stop there? To be sure, it does not. No, for this paragon of journalistic rectitude, there are always fresh and greater depths of duplicity to be explored. Thus, we find reports being altered in response to pressure from card carrying environmentalist cadres. We find entire stories, in this case the greatest scandal to rock the entire pseudo-scientific global warming charade, being surreptitiously buried by Corporation journalists. In that case, of course, the scandal eventually broke, but not before so-called BBC environmental staff had sat on it for over a month. Overall, in fact, does not the record of the BBC invite colourable comparison to the coverage of its own recent history by the Chinese Communist Party? Something unpalatable in the woodshed? Nulla problema – simply dust off the air brush!
And what is the BBC’s justification for this plain and clear subversion of its editorial requirement to be impartial? Why, to be sure, none other than a clandestine meeting of senior decision makers - amongst them a name currently being touted as a possible (likely?) next Director General - with a former President of the Royal Society and a motley assembly of ‘green’ activists, a meeting the nature of which the BBC has strenuously sought to keep secret, and continues so to do. Why? Well, unlikely though it may be, perhaps one day the BBC will disclose the reason to its licence fee payers. Whatever it may be, however, will surely not be to its credit.
In the meantime, it is fair to record, is it not, that the venerable Society of which Mr. May was President has also come under fierce attack from scores within its own ranks, all of whom, one presumes, the BBC would acknowledge to be distinguished scientists. But any report of this from the BBC? I do not recall but, if there was, one may be sure that it was an ‘inside page’ item in a much reduced font size. Instead from the present encumbent, we are regaled in a recent BBC documentary with such intellectual gems as “If you had a heart condition, would you visit a dentist?” Well, in case Mr. Nurse doesn’t know the answer, it is “No, but I sure as heck would want a second opinion.”
But, once again, it does not stop there does it? Having persistently breached the requirement to be impartial, it follows almost ineluctably that that it will also have persistently breached its obligation to be accurate. And, having been wilfully and persistently inaccurate (not to mention outright mendacious), this raises the gravest danger that it will also have been repeatedly in breach of a third of its Editorial Standards, namely that requiring news/factual documentary coverage to avoid promoting the personal opinions of individual reporters.
And, in this, we may briefly step outside the confines of single topic narration. In its overseas coverage, in particular, when interviewing certain foreign spokesmen, BBC journalists have repeatedly resorted to the use of tendentious questioning, instantaneously followed by opprobrious interruption when responses were not as pre-scripted in the mind of the reporter in question. An interview with the Sri Lankan defence minister in relation to alleged war crimes in one instance and with an Israeli government spokesman on the issue of Palestinian rights in another are well recollected. The fabrication of a prejudged outcome by a BBC journalist is of no interest to any fair minded recipient of his/her storyline.
I have mentioned two examples of reports personally witnessed as a listener, but why should I go on? I am sure that the BBC is as aware as am I that, so all pervasive is the perception of systemic bias within the Corporation, that an entire website now exists to track and record further examples of what I have alleged. In short, “J’accuse” - but then so do senior members and former members of its own staff! And the response of the BBC? Why, nothing less than to continue to assert its corporate pride in its own manifest impartiality! But, of course! Why not, to be sure? How could it be otherwise?
Allow me to add that there is little doubt that the BBC regards its licence fee payers as contemptible. It should not make the parallel mistake of assuming that they are all deranged.
In conclusion then, this is allegedly a consultation about the establishment of a revised Complaints Framework. The framework as such is not of central importance. The crucial issue lies in whether or not the BBC proposes to act in good faith with honesty of purpose or, in the alternative, has its course set upon the continued pursuit of a pre-determined and perverse (indeed, perverted) agenda - which is what, speaking personally, I suspect. That pre-determined agenda is most conspicuously exemplified by coverage of the climate change controversy but, as has been indicated, is by no means confined to it. Systemic bias is evident across the entire spectrum of its journalistic activities. Its unquestioned and, to its collectivist mindset, unquestionable assumptions inform every facet of its supposedly factual programming, and thereby render adherence to its own Editorial Standards all but an exercise in futility.
This is not an issue about the veracity or otherwise of any particular scientific hypothesis or political positioning. It is about the BBC’s handling of matters of moment and, following therefrom, about its handling of complaints relating to what are regarded as lapses from its own self declared aspiration to objectivity. In that, it is an ethical issue of singular significance, most particularly in relation to a body which owes its existence to public funding from across the population at large and not merely from sectional interests. Andrew Marr expresses it well enough:
"The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias",……………”
Of course, whether the population at large has ‘a cultural liberal bias’ is, I submit, highly debateable. In any event, the Editorial Standards of the BBC mandate that it provides an even handed reflection of what is actual reality, not what its liberal leaning consensus considers such reality ought to be.
The Complaints Framework is integral to that objective.
Cc: As the spirit moves
PS On Saturday, I received a letter from your colleague, Philip Boyce. It related to a letter I had written on 12 October last year. Jolly impressive!